A short and sweet review today to tie in with my current laksa soup obsession. If you aren’t familiar with laksa, it is a spicy noodle soup popular in South East Asia (Malaysia and Singapore in particular) which features either a rich and spicy curry coconut milk or sour asam broth base, rice or egg noodles and either chicken, prawns or fish plus vegetables and sometimes an egg depending on where you have it. It’s a super comforting and flavourful bowl of goodness, perfect for this colder weather and I am honestly surprised how few restaurants are serving it up in London at the moment (though I have a feeling following the wave of ramen spots opening this could be the “next big thing”).
I had a fair few fantastic laksas whilst in Singapore and began hunting for a good London alternative the minute I was back on British soil. I have previously reviewed Sambal Shiok in Holloway and honestly cannot fault their well-priced laksa offering, with my prawn version being seriously yummy and on par with what I had a 12 hour flight away. However, I don’t tend to venture that way too often and unfortunately- or indeed fortunately for the restaurant, the place has somewhat gotten discovered by the masses (I blame a rather excellent review in the Times by one of my favourite foodie critics Giles Coren), which means long queues even at early dining times during the week have become the norm now. I was more than intrigued therefore when a Singaporean friend of mine (shout out to Andrea from the Haute Heel for the intel here) mentioned Laksamania, just off Oxford street, which had a supposedly huge laksa offering, decent prices AND allowed you reserve a table.
With a central London Friday night occasion coming up I jumped at the chance to try Laksamania for myself, particularly when it was going to mean no risk of queuing for food on a Friday night, so me and my friend headed there straight after our musical had finished at around 9:45pm (be warned the restaurant takes last orders at 10pm so be sure to arrive before then if you are planning a late dinner or you will leave hungry). I have to say it may not be the most stand out dining environment, a pleasant and bright dining space over two floors, but judging by the crowd that dined there alongside us on the night who clearly were after a taste of home, it serves the real deal.
Indeed, the chef at Laksamania, Danny Tan, hails from Malaysia and comes from a family of well-known Hainese chefs, growing up amongst the diverse culinary influences of the region, and honed his skills in leading kitchens around Asia before coming to the UK. You can really tell this by the diverse menu, offering a vast range of laksa interpretations from all over South East Asia, with some added modern twists (deep fried soft shell crab laksa anyone?). It was almost too much choice, with us seriously struggling to pick just one laksa each on this occasion and I would 100% go back to explore more of the menu, particularly their Laksamania laksa which comes served with a giant tiger prawn and their amazing sounding starters.
In the end, I played it rather save and went for the Singapore laksa variety with which I had fallen in love with in the first place and boy was Laksamania’s take on it amazing! Served with juicy prawns, a mix of egg and rice vermicelli noodles, bean curd puffs, a soft-boiled egg, and the creamiest and spiciest of broths, which may have even slightly out-done the Sambal Shiok one in terms of depth, this was HEAVEN and I slurped the whole thing up quicker and less elegant than I should admit to. At £12.95 it was about 50p more expensive than Sambal Shiok but a decent price considering the large serving size and amount of prawns per portion.
Laksa dishes as a whole range from £12 to £17 depending on broth and add ons, which of course is no way as cheap as you can get in Singapore but in my opinion justified here if you consider the quality of cooking and the clean, spacious and calm dining environment you can enjoy them in. They also serve a wide range of other regional noodle and rice dishes, we also shared a classic Nasi Goreng, Malaysia’s national rice dish which features prawns, crispy anchovies, shredded lettuce and sambal and is topped with a fried egg and which turned out to be a super comforting and flavourful dish that even I as someone who usually hates rice really enjoyed, and also have a huge vegan friendly section.
Wine was also excellently priced (we shared a bottle of their white which considering we were dining off Oxford Street had a very decent £18 price tag for the bottle) and service was super attentive, informative and fast. In fact, one would have never guessed we were dining a mere meters away from London’s worst tourist shopping street and altogether it was one of the least stressful dining experience I have had in Central London. Laksamania is authentic and unpretentious and serves some seriously good food at very decent prices. Even if you haven’t tried laksa for yourself yet, If you are in Central London and are seeking winter comfort I say stay away from your usual Ramen spot and give this place a go, I think you’ll be a convert like me in no time.
I don’t usually brag about my culinary skills but when it comes to my infamous blue cheese, dried fig and rosemary mac n cheese I think it’s justified. my friends genuinely request this one dish wonder whenever a dinner party comes around and over the years it has never failed to wow first-time or repeat tasters. Perhaps it’s the unique flavour combo of the sweetness from the dried figs paired with the tangy saltiness of the blue cheese (I tend to go for a Gorgonzola or dolce latte to stop the blue cheese from being to overpowering), finished off with a touch of earthiness from the chopped up fresh rosemary that makes this mac n cheese so special and a cut above your average mac, I for one never fail to get a sense of delight both from making it and seeing people’s face when they first try it, even if it’s been years since I first started to rustle it up.
Indeed this has to be my all time favourite go-to dinner party dish, which not only looks and tastes impressive but also feeds the hungriest of crowds and is easier to make than you might think! I hope you give this special dish a go, you won’t regret it, believe me.
Serves 4 (with leftovers for packed lunches) to 6 people
INGREDIENTS 500g of pasta (I use the excellent gluten free penne from Dover but any small pasta shape will do) 8 Tbl butter, divided 200g dried figs, diced 1 1/4 Tbl fresh rosemary, chopped 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped 1/2 C flour 675ml semi skimmed milk 450ml double cream 1/8 tsp nutmeg, ground 340 g medium cheddar cheese, grated 170g blue cheese, crumbled and divided (I usually go for an Italian Gorgonzola or Dolce Latte rather something super pungent) salt and fresh ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 220 celsius.
Grease a large baking pan with one tablespoon of butter and set aside.
Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain well and add the pasta to the baking dish. Toss with two tablespoons of butter so that the pasta doesn’t dry out and stick together and set aside.
In the pot you used to cook the pasta, melt the remaining five tablespoons of butter over medium heat along with the chopped up onions, figs, and rosemary. Cook until the onion is soft, about six minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook an additional two minutes. Whisk in the milk and cream, and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, while whisking, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until fairly thick.
Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in an 1/8 teaspoon of salt, 1/8 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper, and the 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg. Quickly mix in the cheddar and the 3/4 of the blue cheese.
When the mixture is smooth, pour it over the pasta. Use a wooden spoon to gently mix the pasta and sauce together. Dot the top of the dish with the remaining blue cheese and a bit of salt and pepper. I usually then go on to entertain my dinner party guests while serving drinks and nibbles and whack this baby in the oven when everyone is ready for some cheesy goodness.
When you reach that point of the evening, bake it all in the preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes, until bubbling and slightly browned.
Serve with some tangy leafs like rucola for some added greens and freshness, you won’t need any bigger sides as the Mac is pretty rich and filling. Leftovers freeze well so make sure don’t waste a bite and enjoy!
I love these Emily & Fin pyjama sets. They are super soft and comfortable which for me is the main priority when at home! The minute I walk through the door my outside clothes go off (including bra) and these goes on, I mean they are kind of like wearing a co-ord set anyway!
I’m a big Barry’s bootcamp advocate and trust me after one of their hour long intense sessions either before or after work, 6am is my favourite time to go, you are going to be feeling pretty darn tired come sleeping time!
ESTABLISH A NIGHT-TIME BEAUTY ROUTINE
I always make sure to take my make up off using my trusted Liz Earle cleanser and a hot, wet muslin cloth (a heaven’s send for people with dry skin like me and way better for the environment than those dreadful make up wipes). I then moisturise my lips, especially now that winter has officially hit, with the rather excellent BYBI plumping lip balm. All their products are vegan and made in cruelty free way and the beautiful packaging their tubes come in are sugarcane derived, making them both recyclable and biodegradable.
Next up face, where I have gotten into a three step routine using The Ordinary’s excellently priced range of skincare (putting their crazy former CEO to one side). I like to start with their Marine Hyaluronics to open pores, followed by a few drops of their Moroccan oil and then their more general moisturiser to finish! Sadly I don’t stick to this routine every day (hands up who also tends to “forget” to take their make up off after a boozy night) but I do try to stick to this when ever possible and my face has never looked better or has been more spot free!
LISTEN TO A PODCAST TO UNWIND
I love listening to podcasts in the evening as you can have them on in the backdrop as you get ready for bed and even sometimes as you fall asleep! My favourites? If you are foodie Dessert Island Dishes and Table Manners are a must, if you are after a uniquely hilarious take on true crime stories My Favourite Murder has a cult following and rightly so and for a history lesson on the golden age of Hollywood I can’t recommend You Must Remember This enough.
GET YOURSELF SOME GOOD BEDSIDE TABLE READING CHOICES
A good cup of coffee is not always easy to find in London and I avoid a bad burnt tasting cup (aka what Starbucks, Café Nero and the like call “coffee”) like the plague. Over the years however I have found some truly great spots that I thought was about time to share with you and to which I can head knowing the coffee snob in me will leave satisfied!
Friends of Ours is my favourite place to stop by on my way into work to get my much-needed morning caffeine hit. The coffee is outstanding, I am yet to have a bad cappuccino here, and the staff are friendly and of the kind to start making your usual beverage order as you walk through the door. Their brunch offering also happens to be fantastic if you are after some grub, with their Antipodean inspired dishes being a world a way from you bog standard English breakfast.
The Japanese soufflé pancakes served with bruleed apricots, tonka bean & espresso chantilly cream, smoked almond praline, espresso caramel sauce, flowers I sampled the other week were simply divine and also beautifully presented, while their salmon and chilli eggs with beetroot & gin cured salmon gravlax, chilli & feta scrambled eggs, chimichurri, baby greens, mixed seeds showed that they are even able to liven up your standard eggs with some unique flavour twists. This place is a real neighbourhood favourite that has never let me down! One last tip – try their freshly baked Anzac cookies, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with these coconutty, oaty disks of goodness!
Most of you will know Arket as the super cool and minimal Scandi fashion and lifestyle brand that is part of the H&M empire, but only a few of you will have stumbled across the café space that is located at the back of their Covent Garden store. And what a lovely little spot it is, a peaceful and stylish (the Scandi minimalism has been beautifully executed here) café haven away from central London’s crowds which also serves up great coffee, lovely baked goods and surprisingly rather incredible salads. Their beetroot mousse salad with tahini dressing, nuts, fresh leafs, roasted beetroot and dark rye bread was one of the best salads I have EVER had and a steal at £6.50 for a huge bowl of feel good food. It is also never gets too busy in there so for me it has often been the ideal place to camp out for a good few hours to get work done while nibbling on one of their excellent blueberry oat cookies. A hidden gem I am happy to have discovered.
I am a big fan of all the Grind locations around London, it being a mini chain that I can totally get on board with as each of their cafes manages to retain a totally unique character, always has friendly staff and serves up consistently good coffee. I often stop by for a quick cup at Shoreditch Grind post Barry’s Boot Camp but my favourite of theirs has to be Clerkenwell Grind. It is a lot more spacious so you can have a proper sit down and I still gush at their plush pink Wes Anderson inspired interiors, plus I love that it is just around the corner from the Barbican, perfect if you fancy a little wonder after.
I love this vibrant coffee shop bang in the middle of Angel’s picturesque Camden Passage, Yes, it can get pretty crowded in there (both with coffee dates and freelancers looking for a working space for the day) and I, at times, have struggled to get a seat but that is only testament to how fantastic the coffee served here is. If you are in the area the Coffee Works Project is a must visit for a caffeine pick-me-up, you won’t leave disappointed!
Location is what makes this outpost of Spanish inspired café Fernandez and Wells so special, being inside one of my favourite buildings in London, Somerset house, with views across its impressive courtyard and also with some fantastic outside tables bang in the middle of exactly that courtyard when the British weather allows it. Not that it is all style over substance here, they also serve excellent coffee, fresh Spanish charcuterie and cheese as well as a great and cheap cava by the glass which will cost you £5 a pop) . For me it’s a great place to people watch, catch up with friends and take in the amazing architecture around you.